Wednesday, April 14, 2010

5 Key Questions - Focus: Double-A Arkansas Travelers 2010

By David Saltzer - Senior Columnist

As both the Major League and Minor League seasons start, it’s time for Angels fans to get back into the rhythm of the game. Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a close look at each of our minor league affiliates to get to know the 5 key questions that each team needs to answer over the course of the season. In part three of our series, today we will focus on our Double-A team, the Arkansas Travelers to see what key issues are affecting this team and to see what the fans should be most interested in watching.

Question #1: How do you spell relief? W-A-L-D-E-N
Last year was a disappointment for Jordan Walden. He battled control issues, a drop in velocity, and injuries. Ultimately, he was shut down for the season after facing two batters in a start on July 13th.

During the offseason, both Eddie Bane (Director of Scouting for the Angels) and Abe Flores (Director of Player Development for the Angels) confirmed to that Walden would be moved to the bullpen for the 2010 season.

While the move to the pen may be a bit of a blow to the fans, it may actually hasten his rise to the Major Leagues because his arsenal is well suited for that role. When healthy, Walden throws a plus-plus fastball (having been clocked at triple digits in 2008) and a plus slider. Furthermore, by working out of the pen, Walden should put less strain on the arm, which will keep him playing more.

Since health is the biggest issue concerning Walden, we recently asked Eddie Bane about Walden. In our March 29th online chat with Eddie, he said Walden is healthy and said that “from what I have heard the fastball is still huge and he will be fine.” So far, in 2 IPs, Walden appears to be more than fine. In those two innings, he has struck out 4 batters while limiting the opposition to just 2 hits.

Most likely Walden won’t be rushed—it will be hard for any right-handed reliever to force his way into the parent club’s bullpen right now with the guys they have. But, 2010 should be a transitional year for Walden from which he emerges as a high-ceiling reliever or future closer.

Question #2: Is Kohn living in the fast lane?
As if the Travelers didn’t have enough relief in Walden, they also have the #10 Prospect for 2010, Michael Kohn, our nominee for the Angels’ Minor League Reliever of the Year Award (if such an award existed).

Last year, Kohn was just filthy as a reliever. Sporting a 94-98 mph fastball and a plus slider, Kohn struck out 103 batters in just 65.2 IP. He held the opposition to a .153 BAA overall, including a .141 BAA in the high-octane Cal League.

As a prospect, Kohn demonstrates the depths to which the Angels’ organization goes in order to uncover hidden talent in the draft. Originally spotted by Chrystal Kotchman (daughter of the Angels long-time scout and Minor League manager Tom Kotchman), the Angels drafted him after he had only thrown 13 amateur innings.

Because health issues aren’t a concern like they are with Walden, believes that Kohn could be on a faster pace to the major than Walden and could reach the Major Leagues by the end of 2010. The biggest barrier for Kohn towards progressing up the ladder is his consistency with his slider. At the lower levels, Kohn has gotten away with relying mostly on his fastball, and, as he rises through the organization, he will need to adjust. As he adjusts, it will also determine if he profiles more as a setup man or a closer for the parent club.

Question #3: Will Moore dial in the frequency?
When interviewed Abe Flores last December, Abe said “Jeremy Moore has some power in his bat. He can play all 3 outfield spots probably better in the corners. He does have some power. He can drive the ball over the fence. But for him, it’s about frequency of contact and being a tougher out to get the maximum value.”

As a left-handed middle of the order bat, a lot of the Travelers offense will rest on Moore’s shoulders. Abe Flores praised Moore for improving at each level along the way in his development, turning his raw tools into a better approach at the plate. But, Double-A is often the make-it or break-it level, where the pitchers are expose the holes in a hitter’s swing. Moore will need to refine his pitch recognition and selection and make more contact to advance runners and drive them in if he hopes to play ball for Mike Scioscia.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Dickey-Stephens Park (home of the Arkansas Travelers) is not the most hospitable place for power hitters to thrive. The dimensions are rather cavernous, and it takes a mighty blast to hit it out of that stadium. So, won’t be surprised if some of his homers are reduced to doubles. What we will be watching, though, is how well he’s making contact, especially with runners on base.

Question #4: Will Romine steal his way back into the Top-30?
Last year, ranked Andrew Romine as our #40 Top Prospect. This comes after we had ranked him as our #25 Top-Prospect in 2009.

At, we have always been fans of Romine’s defense. He has soft hands and a quick first step. We were encouraged by the praise that Romine received from Eddie Bane on March 29th when he said “Andrew Romine is really a quality major league shortstop and that has shown true in the ML games he gets into during spring training. He is a really good baseball player with outstanding instinct.”

As we said in our 2009 Top Prospect Ranking, “Romine is a plus defender that could be a future Gold Glove winner in the big leagues if his bat will get him there.” Last year, Romine’s offense did not develop like we had hoped, especially considering the hitter-friendly nature of the Cal League. Additionally, his success at stealing bases decreased.

At, we are hoping that Romine will improve his ability to lead off games, get on base, and generate more scoring opportunities with his speed. If he does that, he could rise back up into the Top-30 category for Angels prospects.

Question #5: Is Ryan Mount finally healthy?
Ryan Mount is an offensive-minded 2B who, when healthy, carries a strong left-handed bat. In 2008, he hit 16 HRs in 82 games at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. The problem for Mount has been his health. Injuries over the past 3 years have limited him to about 85 games per year.

As for speed, Mount profiles as a slightly above average base stealer. In 2007, he stole a high of 19 bases. Since then, he’s stolen 15 bases (combined for 2008 and 2009), but was caught 9 times. Mount needs to be more selective in his spots in order to generate more possibilities on the base paths.

If healthy, Mount could get a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake because Mount has already had a season at Double-A and because he could benefit from facing tougher competition. However, in order for him to move up, he will need to improve his defense. While Mount makes most of the routine plays and has good quickness when going to the left and right, he still needs to work on his pivots and throws to 1B. He profiles as an average to slightly above average defender. With Kendrick and Izturis and Aybar capably manning the 2B jobs on the parent club, there is no need to rush him.
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